Creating in an upside-down reality
I live in a country under lockdown.
As I write this, the clock strikes midnight and South Africa enters its third week of police and army enforced stay-home orders for all but essential workers with permits. And when I say "enforced", I mean it. Cyclists, joggers and beggars have been arrested. A man who tested positive and didn't self-isolate was charged with attempted murder.
And the charge was appropriate. In a country with high levels of poverty, where sanitation and self-isolation are a luxury that a significant part of the population simply can't afford, allowing COVID-19 to take hold will be a death sentence for tens of thousands.
We're being told to stay home because the alternative is death.
But how do you create in a world turned upside-down? How do you find your rhythm against doom's hammering?
For me, the answer shifts a little every day, but two anchors are emerging: allowing more, and sharing more.
When I sit down to write at the moment, nothing happens if I try to force myself into the mood needed for a particular scene. Instead, I have to allow myself to write something that resonates for me on the day. It means I'm not writing the chapters in my current book in order, but jumping to a scene where the characters can draw on what is already in my heart. It's made me start a second book, in a whole new genre, because some days that is the only thing I feel I can achieve.
But as much as I expected my writing pattern to change somehow, the second anchor came as a surprise. In a time when we're forced apart, I've started sharing my writing more than ever. In fact, I've started writing for the purpose of sharing it immediately. Until now, a manuscript has needed to be in third or fourth draft before even my beta readers were allowed to see it. Now I'm doing a quick continuity check and sending it, a fraction of a chapter at a time, to friends who like the story. I'm building their feedback into scenes as I go, weaving them into the story as it grows. I'm writing fan-fiction with fury, because every time I publish a piece, people in difficult situations across the world find a smile, or a moment of escape, and tell me that.
My book is due to be published in September, and had I been writing normally, these weeks of enforced quiet could have pulled the publication date forward by a month.
But that's not my rhythm right now. And my book, when you read it, will be richer for the lives weaved into its pages in this upside-down time.
Now I must run. I have a friend waiting for a chapter.
How has your creative rhythm changed? I'd love to hear!